What's the best way to work on your weaknesses?
In my last post, I talked about the dangers of over developing your strengths. As I wrote, too much of a good thing can actually overturn promotion opportunities and sabotage career advancement solutions.
This week, I want to address the flip side - overdoing attempts to improve on weaknesses. I’ll admit, conventional wisdom says that there’s always room for improvement, but my caveat is that there’s a limit, even when it comes to career advancement solutions.
For example, let’s say you’re faced with a boss who says you’re too much of an introvert at work. In fact, they tell you that to get promoted, you have to achieve a certain level of assertiveness.
As an ambitious middle manager, you’ll take this advice seriously and will do some serious thinking about improving your assertiveness. First, you’ll assess your current assertiveness level - maybe a 2 or 3 out of 10. And then you’ll think about what your boss wants - probably a 9 or 10.
The next step would be to think about how to improve your assertiveness. A self-help book? A mentor? A course? So you decide on the best way for you and you take the bull by the horns. At this point, most managers are confident that if they work hard, whatever path they choose, they’ll reach a 9. After all, this isn’t the first time they’ve met a challenge.
But, sadly, and I really mean sadly, my 35 years of experience show that the 9 will most likely never come along. Sure, a hard-working manager might achieve a 6 or a 7, but 9 isn’t going to happen. You’re still an introvert.
Before you balk at my claim, stay with me. You’re probably thinking of examples in which people have made dramatic changes. I can think of a few as well. But most of us simply cannot completely change a character trait - even with hard work.
Why not? It’s because we’re all assembled differently. Each of us is equipped with a unique mix of talents that come into play in our own special way. That’s what makes teamwork so fruitful, for example.
So anyone who thinks they can somehow eradicate parts of their talent mix is heading for big time disappointment. Sure, we can always strive to improve ourselves, but our basic talent mix will always remain in tact.
So what about that promotion?
Let’s return to our scenario above. Rather than trying to erase your introvertedness, try to concentrate on damage control.
For instance, if you’re quiet at meetings, you might be giving the impression that you’re not fully involved with the issue at hand. You know this isn’t true, but your introvertedness is unfortunately speaking for you.
In this case, you’d have to develop certain behaviors that could help you seem more engaged at meetings. For example, if you know the subject of the meeting, prepare a short opinion statement about it to present. Or decide before that meeting that you’ll relate to the ideas of at least two coworkers. Following such game plans at meetings and other high stakes activities will put your introvertedness in the back seat - and your talents at the driver’s wheel.
So whether you’ve been asked to be more assertive, sensitive, expressive, or any other characteristic, your job is to find the specific behaviors that can be changed in highly visible situations and then to work on them - but never under the delusion that you’ll change your personality.
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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